THE PHILIPPINES needs to include more ordinary people or representatives from civic groups in the budget process, according to observers, after the country fared poorly on people’s participation in public budgeting in a survey that measured access to and inclusiveness of budget decisions of 120 countries.
The Congress should “allow any member of the public or any civil society organization to testify during its hearings on the budget proposal prior to its approval,” Francisco A. Magno, who teaches political science and development studies at the De La Salle University, said at a virtual forum on Thursday.
Citing recommendations from the 2021 Open Budget Index conducted by the International Budget Partnership, Mr. Magno said the Philippine legislature should also “allow any member of the public or any civil society organization to testify during its hearings on the audit Report.”
The academic said while the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has already established councils for budget formulation and implementation, it still needs to “expand mechanisms during budget formulation and implementation to engage any civil society organization or member of the public who wishes to participate.”
It should “actively engage with vulnerable and underrepresented communities, directly or through civil society organizations representing them,” added Mr. Magno, an independent budget expert.
The Philippines had a public participation score of 35 out of 100 in the latest open budget survey, up from 31 in 2019.
The country’s public participation scores in budget formulation (at the Executive branch) and approval (at the Legislative branch) stood at 33 and 22, respectively.
Manila’s scores in terms of people’s participation in budget implementation (by the Executive branch) and budget audit (by state auditors) stood at 17 and 78, respectively.
The Philippines relatively low overall participation score, however, was still top among southeast Asian nations. It was followed by Malaysia with a score of 26, Indonesia (24), Vietnam (17), Thailand (11), and Timor-Leste (7).
The country’s score in budget transparency saw a decline at 68, lower than the previous score of 76 in 2019.
“The Philippines has decreased the availability of budget information by failing to publish the Mid-Year Review online in a timely manner,” Mr. Magno said.
Among Southeast Asian nations, the Philippines was behind Indonesia, which had a score of 70. The country was ahead of Thailand (58), Timor-Leste (52), Malaysia (47), Vietnam (44), Cambodia (33), and Myanmar (30).
Mr. Magno said that to boost budget transparency, government agencies should also include expenditure and debt performance in their respective yearend reports.
Meanwhile, the Philippines’ score in budget oversight was unchanged at 74. Budget oversight authority is held by Congress and the Commission on Audit (CoA)
Mr. Magno said these two institutions provided “adequate” budget oversight during the budget process.
Another recommendation he put forward is for the legislature to debate budget policy before the Executive’s budget proposal is tabled.
“A legislative committee should examine in-year budget implementation and publish reports with their findings online,” he added. “A legislative committee should examine the Audit Report and publish a report with their findings online.”
For the CoA, Mr. Magno said the commission could strengthen its independence and improve oversight by ensuring that “audit processes are reviewed by an independent agency.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza